In John 10:10 Jesus promises His followers abundant life. This blog is about my life as His follower.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Another Glimpse

I think it's helpful to catch a glimpse into another way of life.

I like reading books, blogs, or watching movies that do that for me. Catching that glimpse, brings understanding for me. Understanding leads to changing how I respond to people in that situation.

That's the reason why I periodically post about mentally ill people. I know that lots of people have limited experience with them and just don't understand. In California, where I live, about 1/3 of the homeless population is mentally ill.

I have a sister who is a paranoid schizophrenic and I've run secured psychiatric facilities for 9 years.

Sometimes life is painful and there is not an apparent solution for a mentally ill person. I want to share about two recent experiences with my paranoid sister that underscore this truth.

My sister has a son who is in his 20s, just graduated from college, got married not too long ago, and he and his wife just had their first child. Since he graduated at a time when jobs are scare, he was blessed that the company he'd been working for, Target, offered him a promotion to be the head of security where he's been working for the past several years. This young man is a good guy and I really respect him because he's not had it the way he should growing up.

Not too long ago my paranoid sister, his mother, showed up at his work to see him. It was near the end of his work day so he asked her to come back in a little while and he'd take her to dinner. So she left and came back and he took her, his wife and the baby to dinner. She got to meet her grandson and they had an enjoyable evening. She came again to visit him at work soon after that and he talked to her very briefly but explained that she can not keep visiting him at work, that no one is allowed to be visiting at work because they are paid to be working. Well, she came back again the next day only he was in the middle of something and not even available to speak with her. She started arguing with the employees and ended up making some stupid statement about she'd bring a gun in and shoot them (the employees she was arguing with). Unfortunately, the employees did not call the police on her.

This is unfortunate because I had hoped that if they had, she would be deemed a danger to herself and others and therefor get taken to the hospital for mandatory 72 hour observation. I was hoping that observation would lead to the need for her to receive secured treatment where she could stabilize on medication. But they didn't call the police and she finally left. My nephew's boss heard about the whole thing and told him that she is not to come in there again and if she does, he must call the police or he will lose his job. My heart goes out to my nephew and I pray for him. He's under 25 yrs old; can you imagine how embarrassed he was to have this all go on at his work? Can you imagine how much it hurts to see his mom that way? Can you imagine the stress he must be experiencing regarding his job and the need to keep it so he can support his family?

This young man's sister, my paranoid sister's daughter, had a big birthday party for her son at their paternal grandmother's this weekend. My sister showed up before the party and was in a good frame of mind so she helped with the decorations. During the party she was delightful. She stayed on with them and was fine the next day. Then the following day she really lost it to the point where she went over to the next door neighbor's house and used their phone to put in an emergency call to the police to report that my niece, her husband and the other family there were beating her. My sister came back to their home and was yelling at them, carrying on and hitting herself and even slapped my niece. The police came, were really nice to my niece and her husband and said they recognized my sister because they'd recently had to remove her from a store where she'd caused a disturbance. My sister just left their house at that piont. My niece was understandably upset and just kept saying how she's never seen my sister that bad.

It's a frustrating situation. I'm glad we live in a country where the freedom of individual people is respected, and I don't necessarily want that changed. However, that same freedom causes so many problems when it comes to mentally ill people. No one can do anything about the fact that someone like my paranoid sister, who has thoughts that are not true that she acts upon, makes unwise decisions that put her at risk and hurt the ones she loves, continues to live in this sad manner - it's her right to live this way. Like many, many schizophrenics my sister refuses to take medication.

I've seen medication help so many schizophrenic people. But so many schizophrenics will not continue to take their medication. Today anti-psychotic medications have a much smaller side effect panel than in times past, but there are still problems. I've talked with many schizophrenics who have shared that they do not feel like themselves when they are taking medication, they always feel just a bit more dull and less sharp. Then there's the physical side effects such as dry mouth, restlessness, lethargy, and weight gain that come with some of the most effective anti psychotic medications. Not to mention that someone like my sister, who is paranoid, feels like it's everyone else who has the problems, why should she be taking some kind of medication?

I know God is in charge of the universe and there are many things that I do not understand. I am one of those people who just wants to make things right; I'm a "fixer". But this is not something I can fix.


Inge' said...

My heart goes out to you and your family!

I have not had a lot of contact with persons with this illness. My ex-brother-in-law is probably the closest I have come to any personal contact.

I fell very bad for your niece and nephew. Their feelings must be quite torn in regards to their mom.

Have they considered getting the courts involved? Maybe if they can have her declared incompetent, she can get the help she so desperately needs. I know that this is a drastic solution, but, it may be the only one available at this time for your sister.

You are in my prayers.

photogr said...


Your sister must get the help she needs and quickly. The statement she made about shooting people is to be considered a real threat and she might act on it some day. I urge you and your family to seek out advice and help to keep her and others safe.

It is a tough decision to take that kind of action but I am sure your faith will guide you to the right decision. I will pray for you and your sister.

Andrea said...

I have come to accept there are some things only GOD can fix. I, too struggle with being a fixer. This is an area I am having to surrender to GOD.

PS: Sitka has an award for you at All Gods Creatures.

RCUBEs said...

It's not easy but I'm thankful that with courage and honesty, you shared this info about your own sister. Can't imagine what your nephew had to go through during those times when she made threats. And for your niece, too.

Even our jail population has many incarcerated inmates who have mental health issues. It's tough. When their reality is far from what we see or hear. Like you, I often wonder...God bless.

Tracy said...

It's human nature to think there are solutions and everything can be fixed. Such as getting a mentally ill person declared incompetent. When I ran a facility in west LA (a rather wealthy area) I became acquainted with an attorney who does a lot of these type of cases. It's very difficult to get someone declared mentally incompetent and very costly. Certainly not something the average person can afford to do.

Tracy said...

Thank you guys for your kind words and prayers.

Denise said...

Praying for you dear.

GCT said...

I'm sorry to hear of your situation Tracy and I hope that your sister can get the psychiatric help that she needs.

It's a shame that we, as a culture, tend to look down on those who have mental illness. It's seen as a personal defect I think instead of something that the person didn't choose, isn't being punished with, etc. It's important for people to speak out about it.

Tracy said...

Thank you for the prayers Denise.

Thanks GCT. That's exactly how I see it-that these people who have mental illnesses did not choose to have this problem with their brain chemistry, but are often looked down upon for it. I try to periodically talk about it just to try to help others understand more.

jenny said...

That made me...speechless. I just ..It's a lot worse than i thought. Did your family had a caucus and suggested to have her in a hospital or anything just to subsidized her actions? She obviously needs help, and that means soon. She can't be that forever. How about her husband? And to think that her son is also suffering makes the matter in hand worse. I pray for you and your family..

Tracy said...

Jenny - Thank you for your concern and for your prayers.

I do not share this to gain sympathy, but so that others can gain insight into the plight of mentally ill people.

As is typical with most mentally ill people, my sister has been in and out of psychiatric hospitalizations a few times. As with many schizophrenics, she stops taking her medication if she is not being hospitalized.

She is 54ys old and around 7yrs ago she finally got set up to receive social security disability benefits; this means she receives a monthly check (she always speaks about this being due to a physical disability; she says it's because of her back, but she really doesn't have back problems). Prior to being put on disability she would do all sorts of odd jobs or work for agencies such as the salvation army. She's a hard worker but, due to her illness, is disorganized and has interpersonal problems with others since she has all kinds of non-reality-based ideas about what is going on around her. She's actually really good with her money.

She has never been put on public conservatorship. I know that in CA, middle to low income people usually try to get their loved ones onto public conservatorship because they can not afford the legal fees required to set up private conservatorship. In the case of public conservatorship, typically the state department of mental health is paying the fees as well as the salary of the conservators who handle several cases. Plus, having a person whom it is their job to be the conservator for a mentally ill person, can reduce the tensions and strain this can put on the relationship with a family member becoming conservator. It is very difficult to be legally declared incompetent; I've been to several hearings. The judge wants to see if the person can speak about providing food, shelter, clothing for themselves and seems to be a danger to themselves or others. My sister is so typical of many mentally ill people and can always pass this sort of time limited situation before a judge. Most mentally ill people can keep it together for periods of time but can't continue to.

Another way my sister is typical of the chronically mentally ill is that she's been married a couple of times, has several children (in her case 7) whom various family members have raised. Both her husbands were not mentally ill but had lots of problems themselves (we tend to marry people pretty equally healthly or unhealthy to ourselves).

Being Me said...

Hi Tracy, time would eventually show up several situations of disturbance and that might lead to some remedial consequences. In the meantime. there must be a way to put people around her on alert and possibly steer her towards help.

Understand some things are just beyond our control but we can try as best to minimise damage and hurt to herself.

WE can certainly hope in the Lord for a solution to help her get better and be safe.

Praying for you and her children too.


Anonymous said...

Wow...I do feel bad for people that have to take medication for mental illnesses. It really does have some side effects that are unpleasant.

However, for the sake of her family, it sounds like someone needs to try getting her help.

I have a feeling this isn't over. She just might walk into Target in the next few days. Let's hope she doesn't, but I have a feeling...

JD Curtis said...

I've seen medication help so many schizophrenic people. But so many schizophrenics will not continue to take their medication. Today anti-psychotic medications have a much smaller side effect panel than in times past, but there are still problems

and this is the crux of the matter as far as I'm concerned. I don't want to see people locked up and institutionalized. What is the alternative? Assigning a strong-willed, compassionate person to monitor the mental health patient and feed them their medication at regularly prescribed intervals and ensure that they actually swallowed said medication? It's a tough question. If left to their own devices, sometimes the mentally ill won't take their medication on their own because they don't like the side effects. There's no easy answer.

Tracy said...

You're so right JD, there isn't an easy answer.

Guess that's why I share my experiences and periodically talk about mentally ill people in this country. I'm hoping to at least open people's eyes to the situation. Perhaps greater understanding will lead to compassion when one comes into contact with mentally ill people or their loved ones.

John Cowart said...

Oh Tracy, this is such a heavy thing to carry.


Janean said...

it is a mystery. i've known a few people with bi-polar. they were hyper-creative, funny, super-talented, kind hearted people, but when they were in the "bad" time, they made everyone else's life bad. all of them refused to either take or stay on meds. (side-effects you mentioned)

we pray the Lord will rain down His healing for such tormented souls and minds.

gentle hugs!

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